Year Founded: 1938
Home Stadium: Fukuoka YAHUOKU! Dome
Previously Known As: Nankai (1938–1944), Kinki Nippon (1944–1945), Great Ring (1946–1947), Nankai Hawks (1947–1988), Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1989–2004), Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (2005–present)
Championships Won: 8 – 2017, 2015, 2014, 2011, 2003, 1999, 1964, 1959
All-Time Record vs. Hanshin (through 2017): 27-23-3
Major Players in Common With Hanshin: Yutaka Enatsu (Tigers: 1967-75, Hawks: 1976-77); Takenori Emoto (Hawks: 1972-75, Tigers: 1976-81); Katsuya Nomura (Hawks: 1954-77, Tigers Mgr: 1999-2001); Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (Hawks: 1991-95, Tigers: 2003-11); Kenji Johjima (Hawks: 1995-2005, Tigers: 2010-12); Jason Standridge (Hawks: 2007-08, 2014-15; Tigers: 2010-13)
Top 5 Players in Team History:
– Katsuya Nomura, 1954-1977, C. 657 career HRs (#2 all-time), home run king 9 times, MVP and Triple Crown in 1960, inducted into Hall of Fame in 1989.
– Tadashi Sugiura, 1958-1970, RHP. Submarine pitcher, won 38 games in 1959 with 336 K and a 1.40 ERA. Inducted into HOF in 1995.
– Hiromitsu Kadota, 1970-1988, OF. 567 career HRs (#3 all-time). At age 40 became the oldest MVP in NPB history by batting .311 and belting 44 HRs. Inducted into HOF in 2006.
– Mutsuo Minagawa, 1954-1971, RHP. Sidearm pitcher, won 31 games in 1968 while striking out 193. Career 2.42 ERA. Inducted into HOF in 2011.
– Tokuji Iida, 1947-1956, 1B. Lifetime .284 BA, 183 HR, appeared in 1246 consecutive games, inducted into HOF in 1981.
Most Famous Manager: Sadaharu Oh, 1995-2008, 3 Pacific League titles (1999, 2000, 2003), 2 NPB titles (1999, 2003)
Current Top Fielders: Yuki Yanagita (CF): .310 AVG, .426 OBP, 31 HR, 99 RBI, June Hitter of the Month, Golden Glove, PL Best Nine in 2017; Alfredo Despaigne (DH): .260, 35 HR, 103 RBI, PL Best Nine in 2017
Current Top Pitchers: Kodai Senga, RHP (13-4, 2.61 ERA, 181 K in 2017, All-WBC Team 2017); Dennis Sarfate (2-2, 1.09 ERA, 54 SV, 102 K, August Pitcher of the Month, PL MVP, Nippon Series MVP in 2017)
The Hawks played second fiddle to the Yomiuri Giants early and often in the infancy of the NPB. The Hawks lost 4 Japan Series’ in 5 years to the Giants from 1951-53, and 1955. They finally beat the Giants for their first NPB title in 1959, and added a second by beating the Tigers in 1964. Their next title was not to come until 35 years later, in 1999.
The franchise was started in 1938 under the ownership of the Nankai Electric Railway Co., and played in the Japanese Baseball League (JBL) as “Nankai” from 1938-1944. The name was changed to “Kinki Nippon” after the team received partial sponsorship from Kinki Nippon Railway. After a year hiatus in 1945, the team returned to the JBL as the “Kinki Great Ring”, and won the JBL Championship in 1946. In 1947, Nankai settled on the name “Nankai Hawks”, which they kept through the reorganization into the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league in 1950.
The Hawks called Osaka their home until 1988, when the Nankai Electric Railway Co. sold the team to the Daiei department store chain. Daiei kept the “Hawks” moniker, but changed the uniforms and moved the team to Fukuoka, the capital and largest city in Kyushu, which had been without a professional team since the Lions left the city in 1979. The Hawks struggled in Fukuoka the first few years, always finishing in the bottom half of the Pacific League. A number of smart business and baseball moves helped the franchise slowly get better, and in 1999 the Hawks won their first NPB championship in Fukuoka, their third overall. This was followed by another title in 2003, once again at the expense of the Tigers.
Meanwhile, the Daiei department store chain fell on hard financial times, and ultimately sold the team to the SoftBank group in 2005. The SoftBank Hawks, with a renewed source of funds to supplement a solid core of players from the Daiei years, quickly became a perennial challenger in the Pacific League. With Japan Series titles in 2011, 2014 (vs. Hanshin), and 2015, the Hawks are arguably a dynasty team here in the 2010s.
The SoftBank Hawks continue to put incredible talent on the field, with a mix of consistent veterans like captain Seiichi Uchikawa and exciting young players like Yuki Yanagita. Pitching inconsistency is a problem at times, but ace Kodai Senga and Dutchman Rick van den Hurk can keep the Hawks competitive in any series. Some key injuries and the unstoppable force that is Shohei Ohtani prevented the Hawks from three-peating in 2016.
But 2017 found the Hawks back on top as they dominated the NPB for their third Japan Series title in four years. Not only did they win the Pacific League running away, but they repeated as interleague champs, and led the entire NPB with 94 wins. A solid bullpen was the lynchpin of the pitching staff all season, bolstered by the Japan Series MVP closer Dennis Sarfate. I cannot in good conscience forego mentioning the post-season heroics of team captain Seiichi Uchikawa, who almost singlehandedly kept the team in the Climax series, and blasted a game-tying home run in the ninth inning of the Nippon Series-clinching Game 6. The Hawks return most of their starters in 2018, so there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the hunt again next year and in the years to come.
About the Author:
Brian Waters is a Fukuoka resident and a fan of the Hawks since 1998. He can be found on Twitter @MyTwoYen.